The Lake – a boat trip on the lake is a must do. Unfortunately, it is also one of the biggest tourist traps in Myanmar, evident by: (1) local fisherman, especially in the early morning, often on the lake for the sheer purpose of posing for pictures, a la the iconic, fishing pose — with the expectation of a tip; and (2) boat trips often visiting up to 6 workshops (i.e. shops) on a half-day tour (only increasing when your tour is longer). Most of the workshops are only set up for tourists. However, if you inform your boatman that you do not want to visit any one in particular, they will skip it. The local market (further down) is apparently rare. It has some locals selling cattle and households, but it’s also tourist tents- traps (with Made in China manufactured stuff) where Burmese sellers are quoting ridiculous prices. The pagoda is really special and worth a visit.
Visiting one of restaurants on the river is also pleasant and not expensive.
One that is you may consider worth a purchase is where they make handmade cigars “cheroot” (from tobacco, honey, rice flour, tamarind, banana, and anise). You will be paying mostly for the cigar box (~10,000 kyat) but is a good way to bring back a nice souvenir of 30 handmade cigars, if you are into that sort of thing. If you are just after cheroot, you can buy a pack at any convenience shop along the lake or in Nyaung Shwe for
Day tours (8 hours) can buy from tour agents or hotels and guesthouses around the town 20.000 kyat. A boat can hold up to 5 passengers, you can request to ride with others. To hire the boat at the pier may cheaper and more flexible, only the top half of the lake (~10000 kyat for half day tour, ~12000kyat for half day tour + floating market) or including the south of the lake (recommended!) (~15000 kyat).
If you want to visit further destinations such as Sankar village and the nearby Tharkong pagoda (recommended unless you’re really short of money), the boar would cost 50,000 Kyat for the whole day. It is a 3 hour boat ride there through villages and great scenery.
Note that in comparison to other boat trips, this is cheap, because the boat drivers get good commissions for anything you buy at the many shops you visit. Typical shops are clothing (about twice as expensive for the same item than elsewhere in the country), silverware and jewellery, lacquerware & tobacco. If you want to spend more time on the lake and less time shopping, be sure to tell the boat driver clearly. – Prices for a boat 20,000 kyat for a full day tour. If you get 4 to 5 people on the boat they will get the price to 4,000kyat per person.
What to bring on the boat trip besides your camera:
An Umbrella/parasol, it gets HOT under the sun! The boatman would typically provide it, but it is worth checking there is enough for every one of you if you have a group.
A raincoat if there’s a chance to rain. The boat is open, there is no roof, so if rain starts you will get wet.
*plenty* of sunscreen. You will be spending most of the time on the sun, and your UV exposure would be significant. It is also difficult to buy in the floating villages, most shops do not stock it, so pack plenty – and don’t forget to apply it.
earplugs. The boat motor is LOUD, and if you’re on a non-stop 3hr trip to Samar, you’ll end up having huge headache. However, there is a new initiative where boats use a muffled engine, effectively halving the sound-level. Ask around or visit the local community centre (“Inle Speaks”) that started it.
proper warm clothes if necessary, as the early mornings (at least when I visited in December) can reach 13C/55F, and with the wind/lake effect, it feels slightly cooler.
The best way to find a boat is to walk next to the boat station in the evening. Many boatmen will approach you and ask if you need a boat, and you can agree on a details. Make sure the person you’re speaking to is an actual boatman and not an intermediate, so you can assess English level if this is important for you. Make sure you clearly agree you’re getting the boat for the whole day, including sunsets, and that you do not want to see any shops (unless you do). You can also find a boat by just walking the streets of Nyang Shwe – a lot of people will approach you offering a boat ride, and price would be relatively the same.
Inlelaketourism.com (Inle lake tourist agency), No.55, Yone Gyi Road Kanthar(2) Quarter, Nyaungshwe (near Mingalar market), ☎ +95-0941-003-019, . Inle lake tourist agency. Information & Arrangement for Inle region: boat (to go sightseeing Inle lake), taxi (to go around Inle region, but also to Mandalay, Bagan, Yangon, etc.), bus tickets, flight tickets, Trekking in the mountains.
Inle Boy, Nyaungshwe (near Shwe Hin Thar Guest House and Inle Star Hotel on the canal), ☎ 09-428331679. Will take you on an all-day extended cruise to the south of the lake, skipping the shopping extravaganza you’ll be subjected to by other tour operators. Get some temples, lots of boat time around villages, sunset. Better yet, it’s 40,000 kyat for the boat, so with 4-5 people, it’s a better deal than the glorified mall circuit everyone else sells. Just tell Inle Boy “the south route – no shops, NO SHOPS” and he has an itinerary ready. Make sure your driver takes you to the bridge (sort of a junior Ubein Bridge) and be aware that despite their assurances, he will most likely speak almost no English. Don’t buy bus tix from Inle Boy, as his price is way above market. But the boat tour was great. You can reserve a taxi from them for 15,000 kyat to Heho airport that is a fair deal. 40,000.
Mr A Tun (Mu Kyi), Nyaungshwe (On the main road east of the market, 5mins, beside Smiling Moon), ☎ 0943197443. great little tour company, run only by Mu Kyi, that tries to differentiate itself a little from the many other tour companies in Nyaungshwe. Her husband passed away a few years ago and she is raising her two adorable young children by herself. She is friendly, helpful and also speaks fluent English and doesn’t rip off tourists like some dodgier places in town. The bus ticket to Yangon is also 2,000 kyat cheaper than elsewhere (13,000). Bike rental at 1000kyat/day. Ask her for a map, it provides itineraries and prices for boat rides and hot springs so you won’t get ripped off.
Bird Migration – Another worthwhile experience that most tourists miss is to see some of the thousands of waterbirds that use Inle Lake either as a breeding site or on migration. Some are rare species difficult to see anywhere else. December and January are the best times, although some birds, like the spectacular Pheasant-tailed Jacana, are best seen in their breeding plumage during the rainy season. The Lake is a wildlife sanctuary and the local warden can arrange a knowledgeable guide who knows the English names and can show you where the birds are for a reasonable fee (about 12000kyat at this writing, not including boat and boatman.) This fee goes to support the staff of the cash-strapped sanctuary. Bring your own binoculars and get out early when the birds are most active. Ask at your lodging to make arrangements, or better still, phone the Forestry service directly and arrange for a guide: 081-209565
Bike Ride – take a day to ride through surrounding villages. Just check your rental bike carefully before leaving.
Active & Authentic Travels &Tours rents quality mountain bikes (Chinese carbon fiber frames). Friendly folks, some English spoken, simple maps available. Costs about 3x more than a guesthouse bike, but potentially worth it if you’re going to put in long miles. They can also do guided tours. Kyaunn Taw Shayt Street, half a block south of the main drag in Nyuang Shwe across from The French Touch . 0936281856 [email protected]
Hike – day hikes in the surrounding hills, or 3 day hikes to Kalaw are available, and are highly recommended. Seek out Than The, a local guide who knows the area very well and comes highly recommended. Ask for him at Win’s Massage business. Another excellent guide is Dante, which you can hire from the Agency called Thu-Thu, on the main street near the market. He and Mr. Cook will provide you the best information on the area and the best food you’ll eat in Myanmar. A typical day hike usually costs about 10,000 Kyats per person and starts at 8 AM and ends at 4-6 PM. Be warned that the hikes can be very exhausting because it involves a lot of walking (typically 20 km, but you can ask the guide to shorten the trip if you are tired), walking up steep paths and the heat (especially in April) can make it quite tiring too. Bring plenty of water (2-3 litres per person) as it can be difficult to buy clean water since you won’t pass any shops, and of course good hiking shoes or boots. On a typical trip one will walk through mountains, forests and many villages inhabited by hill tribes (but don’t expect to see them dressed in fancy hill tribe costumes. This is real life and not set up for the tourists). Even if a hike is tiring, it gives the opportunity to get a glimpse of real life around Inle Lake and see some nice scenery too. It’s usually not a tourist trap like the boat trip on the lake often is.
Hiking guide: Sunny Day Tour Services, West of market, Nyang Shwe Township (Follow the road down from the bridge. You will be able to see this on your left on one of the crossing streets), ☎ [email protected] From this place you can hire a hiking guide for a very reasonable price. The guide Ko Thwe speaks excellent English and is able to organise hikes flexibly, depending on where you want to go. He can also guide you to Kalaw. Approximately 10 000 khyats.. edit
Hot Springs – Rent a bike and cycle the bumpy road for 45 minutes towards the mountains to visit the hot springs for a relaxing afternoon. Recently they have sepatrated the area for locals and foreigneirs which means there’s double pricing. 10$\ person including towels.The Hot Springs are actually 4 small swimming pools in a big concrete spa centre, so you do not go there for the natural surroundings. The view is the field with tractors and farm workers. Looking quite sad and definitely not worth 10$. The place looks a bit weary and not well maintained. All the pools are hot, you can barely get into 2 of 4. The temperature is 35,39,40,41 degrees. It’s really hot. The bike ride to the spa however is very scenic, though the tree-lined dirt road westward is rather wobbly.
Red Mountain Winery – Rent a bike and cycle about 3 km outside of town to visit the Red Mountain Winery. Great for sunset views. There is free WiFi available as well as a full restaurant menu of local and Western specialties. Wine tasting is 5,000 K to try 4 different types of wines, which aren’t bad. You can also order food and full glasses (or bottles) of wine. Pretty crowded.
Massage @ Phyu Phyu’s Bamboo Hut, Yone Gyi Rd (near bridge). Visit Phyu Phyu’s Bamboo Hut for traditional burmese massage by one of Phyu Phyu’s family members. This wonderful young woman (with the nicest family) can also book boat trips (and guide you), canoes or trekking. edit
Stand Up Paddling (SUP) – Learn to Stand Up Paddle Inle-Style (Smiling Moon). Try your hand (or feet!) at learning to paddle a boat like the locals. When we were there, only the guide U-Paw-San at Smiling Moon was willing to teach us, but no doubt others will be joining in soon. They teach the stroke, balance and navigation required to paddle your own boat. The fisherman on the lake make stand up paddling by foot look simple. It’s definitely not, but it sure is fun trying. edit
Shan Cooking classes with Sue at Bamboo Princess 6/261 Aung Chan Thar Quarter Nyaungshwe. Learn to prepare and cook a series of Shan dishes during the course of a morning followed by eating the results for lunch. Absolutely delicious (and enough of it). Price is 20,000 kyat. Expensive but worth it. Dishes prepared can cater for customer choices including those with allergies, e.g. vegetarian, coeliac/ celiac, but the default range is based on seasonally available ingredients from local markets. Leslie (Sue’s husband) also helped with creating gluten free and egg free options – make sure to advise when booking and also at the start of the course prior to visiting the market. Great fun and interesting conversation with Sue about how things are in Ngaungshwe. A lovely garden setting. Be prepared for plenty of children around as Sue’s own children, her brother’s child plus many of the neighbouring children are found playing around the house.Arrangements are easily made via your accommodation reception. Email [email protected] Ph 09 41010433
Htat Eian Caves. These caves are nice to explore. Bring a torch. There are Buddha statues inside of course and people praying, meditating and sleeping. Also a monastery nearby and you can chat with the monks. You can bike here over a hill from Nyaung Shwe (see the link for a gps trace). A good place to spend the hotter hours of the day. (Wikitravel)